Burn for Me Page 13

“I don’t want to hurt you,” he said. “I want the information.”


“Forcing you gives me no pleasure.”

True. “If you don’t like forcing me, you should let me go.”

“Tell me what I want to know, and you can walk out of here.”

“No. It would be unethical and unprofessional.”

He was a Prime telekinetic. Sometime Primes had secondary talents, but they were never as strong as their primary magic. Telepathy was will based. My magic was also will based, and in all of the time I had been alive, I had never met a person on whom it hadn’t worked. I grabbed onto that thought and used it to steady myself. He might be a dragon, but if he tried to swallow me whole, I’d make him choke. I scooted forward, trying to get as comfortable in my restraints as I could, and licked my dry lips. “Okay, tough guy. Let’s see what you’ve got.”

Mad Rogan shrugged his shoulders. Magic pulsed from him, running down the lines of magic, turning them brighter, like fire traveling along a firing cord. Pressure clamped me, squeezing my mind in an invisible vise. I clenched my teeth. He was strong.

I pushed back. His eyes narrowed.

“Adam Pierce.” He would keep repeating the name. The more he repeated it, the harder it would be not to think about it, and the harder the spell would grind against my defenses.

I braced myself against the pressure. He wouldn’t break me. “Eat dirt and die.”

The pressure crushed my mind, pushing against it like an impossibly heavy weight. It felt like my head was locked inside a giant lead bell, and it kept growing tighter and tighter, compressing my skull. The relentless assault of magic had turned into a steady, terrible pain. It hurt to think. It hurt to move. Time had dissolved into ache in my mind.

The heat from all the energy rushing back and forth through the spell had turned the room into a sauna. Sweat slicked my skin. I had pulled off my T-shirt ages ago. I would’ve stripped off my jeans too if I could’ve gotten them over the cuffs.

Across from me, Mad Rogan sat motionless in the circle. A damp sheen beaded at his hairline and slicked his chest and carved biceps. The blue runic script covering his body still held, but some symbols were beginning to smudge. The effort of crushing my will was wearing him out. In the soft illumination of the room, he looked barely human, a feral, predatory creature of some arcane magic. I would’ve loved nothing more than to walk over there and kick him right in the face. As it was, I glanced at him anytime the pressure got to me, and a fresh jolt of fear kept me going.

The pressure ebbed slightly. He was tired.

“You’re rich, right?” My voice came out rough.


“Couldn’t you spring for air-conditioning in the room?”

“I didn’t expect to sit here for hours. But if you’re too hot, feel free to take the bra off.”

I gave him the finger.

“What are you?” he asked.

“I’m the woman you chained in your basement. I’m your captive. Your . . . victim. Yes, that’s the right word. All of that education. How come nobody ever explained to you that you can’t just kidnap people because you feel like it?”

He grimaced. “You had a full second to shoot me.”

“I don’t just shoot strangers unless my life is clearly in danger. For all I knew, you could’ve been a cop assigned to Pierce’s case. If I fire, I have to be prepared for the possibility of killing my target. Besides, discharging a firearm into a crowd is irresponsible.”

“A .22 will bounce off wet laundry on the line. Why even carry it?”

I leaned back. Something in my spine popped. “Because I don’t shoot unless I mean to kill. A large caliber will tear a hole through the target and exit, possibly striking innocent bystanders. A .22 will enter the body and bounce around inside it, turning your insides into hamburger. Small-caliber gunshots to the chest and skull are nearly always fatal. Had I known you were going to pull a pretty ribbon out of your sleeve like some two-bit magician, tie me up with it, and indulge your mental torture fetish in your basement, I would’ve shot you. Many times.”

“Two-bit magician?”

“Men like you enjoy being flattered.”

The muscles on his arms bulged. Magic clamped me, hard and painful. The familiar fear flooded me in a slow wave. I was really tired.

“I’ve broken Significant mages in this trap,” he said, his voice matter-of-fact.


“I’ll break you.”

“You will try.”

The pressure on my mind skyrocketed. The magic turned into a beast, chewing on me. Its teeth ripped a quiet moan from me. I stared at him, channeling all of my anger into my defenses.

Blood slipped from his nostrils and slid down his face.

“Give up,” he growled.

“You first.”

It hurt. The weight was so heavy. My defenses quaked. My hands were shaking.

Mad Rogan growled like an animal. It hurt him too.

Adam Pierce, Adam Pierce, Adam Pierce . . . The name resonated through my mind like the toll of a church bell. I wanted to clamp my hands over my ears, but it wouldn’t help. The sound and pressure were everywhere. The magic devoured my barriers, seeking its prey.

My thoughts began to dissolve, slipping away from me. He was almost through.

Adam Pierce, Adam Pierce, Adam Pierce . . .

The basement swam around me. The walls turned liquid.

My mind boiled under pressure. I had to give in. I had to feed the beast to save myself.

I couldn’t betray my client. He couldn’t win.

Feed the beast. Feed it something secret, something I kept buried so deep in my soul that I swore never to let it out.

No, I can’t.

The magic ripped apart the inner walls of my mind.

I can’t.

My defenses burst, and with one last effort I shoved my deepest secret in front of the beast. It snapped my guilt into its jaws and tore it out. The words spilled out of me in a rush.

“When I was fifteen years old, I found the letter from our physician with my father’s diagnosis on it. He caught me and made me promise not to tell anyone. I kept his secret for a year. I’m the reason why my father died when he did. If I had told Mom, we could’ve started treatment a year earlier. I’m responsible. I didn’t tell. I didn’t tell anyone to this day, because I’m a coward.”

The magic shot through the Acubens Exemplar like a blast wave. The glowing lines pulsed with brilliance and vanished, exhausted, all of their power expended in trying to rip my secret out of me.

I slumped over on the floor, my face cold. The lack of pressure was pure, distilled bliss. I felt so light.

Mad Rogan walked over to me, moving carefully, and swore.

“Fuck you too,” I told him.

He knelt by my feet. How the hell could he even move after this? I heard metal clanging. He lifted my head and put something to my lips.

I clamped my teeth together.

“It’s water, you stubborn idiot,” he snarled.

I tried to shake my head, but he forced my mouth open. Water wet my tongue. I swallowed, fighting the fog.

Fatigue wrapped me, or maybe it was some sort of blanket. Then we were in a car. It was dark outside.

The car stopping. Car door swinging open. Mad Rogan carrying me. Warehouse door. Cold cement.

The door opening.


I woke up in the living room. Someone had left the table lamp on. It glowed with soft electric light, and the room looked so cozy, with its dark blue-green walls and warm yellow lamps. I snuggled into the throw someone had put over me. I’d had a really ugly nightmare.

I stretched. The muscles of my legs and arms cramped. Ow, ow, ow.

Not a nightmare. Mad Rogan really did chain me in his basement.

I sat up. Everything hurt. My back felt like it had been beaten up by a sack of potatoes.

That bastard. I’d file a police report, except nobody would believe me, and explaining how I’d held him off inside the spell would make things really complicated. That’s okay. I would find some way to get even.

Voices floated to me from the kitchen. Mother. She sounded upset. I squinted at the clock on the Blu-ray player. 11:45 p.m. Given a chance, we argued until we turned purple in the face and passed out from the effort, but this was late for a fight even by our family’s standards. I pushed myself upright and staggered toward the voices.

My mother’s voice cut through the night. “. . . Pierce? Irresponsible and stupid. Stupid, Bernard!”

Right. We’d been busted. After that ass dropped me off at my doorstep, my mother must’ve leaned on Bern for explanations, and he must’ve broken down and told her everything.

I pushed my way into the kitchen. Bern sat at the table, his face a somber mask. Next to him Leon was pushing a marble back and forth on the table with a chopstick and trying his best to look like he didn’t care about anything. Catalina and Arabella sat together. Catalina’s face had shut down, the way it usually did when something really stressful happened between adults. Arabella looked like she wanted to punch something. Both they and Leon should’ve been in bed. Grandma Frida nursed a coffee, her eyes red. I felt a rush of guilt. I’d made my grandmother cry.

“I can’t believe you,” my mother snarled.

“You can stop yelling at him,” I said. “It was my call.”

Mom spun around. We stared at each other.

“Tomorrow you will go to MII,” she said. Her voice was quiet, but it had about as much give in it as a steel beam. “You’ll tell them you’re off this job.”

I braced myself. I’d known this moment would come sooner or later, and I’d been dreading it. “No.”

My mother squared her shoulders. “Fine. Then I will do it.”

Mother had lost her license four years ago. She blamed herself for it. If anything happened to me, she would blame herself as well. I didn’t want to do this. I didn’t want to stir up all that guilt and heartache, so I tried to keep my voice as gentle as possible. “You don’t have the authority to speak for the firm. The agency is in my name.”

The kitchen went so quiet you could hear a pin drop. Catalina’s eyes were as big as saucers.

My mother’s face turned into a cold, flat mask.

“The decision is mine,” I said. “I’m the one licensed. We are going after Pierce.”

“How are you going to contain him?”

“I don’t have to contain him. I met him and I’m talking him in.”

“How is that working for you?” Mother asked. “Because you looked half dead when I found you on the doorstep.”

“That wasn’t Adam Pierce. That was Mad Rogan.”

Mother recoiled. Leon made a choking noise.

“I thought he was out,” Bern said.

“He’s in. Apparently he does care about his cousin.”

“Are you out of your mind?” Mother’s voice cracked like a whip. “Do you have any idea what kind of fire you’re playing with?”

“Yes, I do.”

“It’s just money.”

“It’s not just about money.” My voice went up. “It’s about our family. I won’t let them push us around just because they feel like it. I won’t let them uproot us. They don’t get to do it.”


“Yes, Mother?”

“We can start over!”

“And how long will that take? Without equipment, without a house, without our client database? You know most of our business comes from word-of-mouth recommendations, and those recommendations are for Baylor Investigative Agency. MII will take our name. When our phone is disconnected, and our website is down, people will assume we’re out of business and move on. It will take years before we rebuild. The answer is no.”

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